Maisam Alomar

The newest addition to the Department of Women and Gender Studies, Dr. Maisam Alomar has joined our faculty this semester as an assistant professor. Her research lies mainly in the areas of disability studies, cultural studies, and ethnic studies.

Alomar comes to us from the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of California, San Diego, where she completed her dissertation, "‘To Be Seen Whole’: The Racialization of Disability after World War II" under the advisement of Dr. Patrick Anderson. In this work, she examined popular culture, laws, and historical documents to find how ideologies of race and gender have interacted to construct disability as a social and scientific category. Her interdisciplinary research included archival investigation, legal analysis, the collection of original social science data from public databases, and film and literary analysis.

Alomar notes that “disability studies raises important questions about inclusion, access, representation, embodiment, space, and reproduction.” Her work also incorporated black studies and critical races scholarship to analyze ways racial categories shape what is considered a disability, who is considered disabled, and the legal and social consequences of such categorization. She received grants for her research from the Black Studies Project and the Institute of Arts and Humanities at UCSD, and by the University of California Humanities Research Institute.

Alomar also contributed to the UC San Diego’s Black Studies Project by organizing events and facilitating seminars. The Black Studies Project is an interdisciplinary research collaborative that includes faculty, graduate and undergraduate students. It offers a platform for cross-departmental and cross-campus intellectual exchange in the field of Black Studies.  She also contributed to the UC San Diego’s Plains Indian Ledger Art Project as a digital archivist and outreach coordinator. This project aims to digitize and promote the unique genre of drawings made by the Plains Indians between 1860 and 1900, and give researchers such as Alomar first-hand experience in the history and significance of representation through Native American material culture. This artwork has been scattered and the ledger books have been disbanded by private owners over the past few decades. The project promotes accessibility in part to allow indigenous people whose communities historically produced this artwork to regain access to it.

Alomar has authored an upcoming publication entitled “‘This Isn’t the South Bronx’: Race, Criminality, and Disability in the Contemporary Opioid Epidemic” which is currently under review with the journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, Technoscience. The essay takes up the issue of “substance use disorder” and argues that the discourse surrounding the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic and the present-day opioid epidemic rely on similarly racialized rhetoric, and its implications regarding pain and suffering, safety and employment to establish substance use disorder as a (white) disability and not a (black) criminal liability as it was understood throughout the Reagan-Bush era War on Drugs. These racially disparate characterizations of substance use disorder help to shape and, in turn, are perpetuated by the respective technologies of rehabilitation and criminalization developed in response. The essay takes the debate surrounding the categorization of substance use disorder as a prominent case study in how state and civil society understand and relate to an emergent disability through the deployment of law and technology.

Alomar is currently teaching Gender, Race, Sex and the Body, which studies the body as a site for the production of social difference, meaning and inequality. The course is supported by course readings from feminist theory, critical race studies, sociology of the body, and cultural studies, including from authors Angela Davis, Roxane Gay, Judith Butler, Dorothy Roberts, and Danielle Wong. She is also teaching a social science seminar for the Miramontes Arts and Sciences Program regarding gender and race in film.

This spring, Alomar has created a new course Gender, Race, Science and Technology (WGST 3702) which examines the role of science and technology in forming conceptions of race, gender, and class, and vice-versa. They examine how some populations benefit from scientific knowledge-production while others are excluded, or come to be its subjects. The class will also ask how and why we might engage in scientific knowledge-production in light of this history.